Redesign the world. A designer’s guide to the next decade

Is it a good moment to be a designer? What role will designers play in the great challenges of the ‘20s? A series of think pieces for the upcoming design generation.

10 February 2020

Cover image: illustration from FF Dingbats 2.0 booklet (Erler & Skibbe, 2009)

Series index

  1. A memorandum for the upcoming design generation
    1. An evolving practice: the trajectory of design to date
    2. Two perspectives for the next decade
  2. The extinction of the Designosaurs
    1. Designosaurus humilis
    2. Designosaurus monomedialis
    3. Chief Design Officers and other designosaurs
  3. Five emerging areas in design practice
  4. A designer’s mindset for the greatest challenge

A memorandum for the upcoming design generation

During this last semester I’ve been thinking a lot about our future — the future for designers. Inspired by interactions with the students of my course “Future Scenarios” at NABA, I was confronted with their perception of being designer as a profession.

Some of them have a naive, limited, pessimistic view of it. But it’s not entirely their fault: too often designers are only considered as cosmeticians in our society. Sometimes, even the most experienced masters find themselves thinking about the external glaze, while forgetting the genuine meaning of their work. This myopia is typically expressed in a lack of awareness of future disruptions and challenges that the discipline is going to face in the ‘20s.

While the flow of young designers joining the global community steadily increases, I’ve started this series of think pieces to explore the evolution of the design discipline and practice, from its origins to the most plausible scenarios for the next decade. By intercepting weak signals and extrapolating trends (superficial and profound), I have taken on the task of investigating how we’re going to shape our role in the future society.

An evolving practice: the trajectory of design to date

Over 95% of all designers who have ever lived are alive today.
(Berman, 2009, p.156)

While rooted in craftmanship, design is relatively young in the history of humanity and, ever since, is expanding its scope. De Fusco’s History of design (2002) begins with the invention of the typographic press by Gutenberg. Yet it’s after the industrial revolution that designers are born as distinct professionals.

Until the first half of the 20th century, designers were widely employed in the service of the mass production industry. However, in the second half, the economy shifted from manufacturing towards services. The efforts of many designers widened to the ideation of communications and interfaces, with companies such as Olivetti, IBM and, later, Apple and Microsoft. This endeavor contributed to the global spread of information technology and the digitalization of society.

In the new millennium, design has kept on expanding its sphere into the experience economy, and acting on interactions, services, systems well beyond the traditional field of industrial design. During these years the term “design thinking” — intended as a creative method for solving complex problems — enters the vocabulary of large companies looking for innovation.

Once engaged only in the formal aspect of objects and services, designers were mostly confined to the final stages of value creation. Designers today instead have moved “upstream” (Brown, 2009), with strategic roles as Chief Design Officer. By positioning themselves at the intersection of technological, human and economic needs, designers can really influence the rise and prosperity of start-ups, multinational organizations and communities.

The evolution of the design profession (Cuffaro et al., 2013, p.13) — adapted from V. Arquilla

Above: The evolution of the design profession (Cuffaro et al., 2013, p.13) — adapted from V. Arquilla

Two perspectives for the next decade

Looking at the path outlined so far, the current attractiveness of the profession and the discipline is clear. Two considerations also emerge, which we will develop later in the series. The first is technical, the latter is ethical.

  • The evolution of design practice will continue in the ‘20s, following the acceleration dictated by technological, social and economic developments. New fields will emerge and a new set of skills will be required of young designers entering the job market. Which areas of design will be obsolete within 10 years and which futuristic areas of application will emerge?
  • Since its inception in the industrial period “the evolution of the design profession has reflected the development of the surrounding economy” (Cuffaro et al., 2013). However, design should no longer reflect blindly a capitalist model that has proved itself predatory and dysfunctional. We should put the newly acquired influence and strategic role to better use. Today designers have got the power (and the duty) to redesign the world in which we live.


All URLs were retrieved in February 2020.

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